SXSW 2007

This is my travel blog. It started as a way for people to keep up with my trip to Australia to watch the 2006/7 Ashes series, and continued with my trip to SXSW 2007 in Austin, Texas, and Las Vegas in March '07.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

England’s ineptitude at the MCG has given us a few extra days to explore Melbourne and it’s surroundings. Yesterday Moz went out to the Dandenong Mountains for a trip on the Puffing Billy steam train, and I went to Williamstown to have a wander around and visit the railway museum there. (The more observant of you may notice a bit of theme in my museum visits). Williamstown was the original port for Melbourne but was superseded by the current port in Melbourne itself. It’s now a chi-chi sort of resort for Melburnians to visit the seaside at. In the evening we both went to the cinema, Moz to see the new Bond one, Casino Royale, and I to see a film that Kerry O’Keefe recommended to Aggers on the ABC radio commentary. It was an Australian film, low budget mockumentary about a guy who works for a Portaloo hire company. Quite comedic, but also rather touching in places as well. In all a good little film, much better than the usual Hollywood crap, although it did make me feel rather nauseous towards the end due to the jerky camera work!
Today Moz went on his wine tour to the Yarra valley. (His verdict - very good indeed. I’ll leave you to decide what that means……..). I decided to get the train up to Bendigo which was the largest goldfield in Victoria. There is an old mine there that you can go underground at and see how the gold was mined. It closed in about 1954 but was opened up for tourists in the 80’s. The main shaft is very deep - apparently you could fit the tallest building in Melbourne (the 55 storey Rialto tower) in the shaft twice! The tour only goes down to the 2nd level down of about 17, about 60m underground. You have to wear hard hats and miners lamps though. They have fitted a larger hoist to take the tours down, as the main shaft is only about 4 foot square. Everything had to go into or come out of the mine via that small hole. If the winding gear failed it would take 3 hours for the men to climb the ladders back to the surface. After the tour down the mine I looked round the museum which was very interesting - the winding gear is steam driven by the original engine and is still operational. You can also pan for gold. They have some ore from the mine which you can crush and swill around a panning dish and hopefully find a few tiny grains of gold. Unfortunately all I found was iron Pyrites - better known as Fools Gold!
After the mine I took a trip on the Bendigo tram which was saved from closure in the early 1970’s by some very forward sighted citizens and now operates as a tourist attraction along the main street from one end of town to the other. They have the original 1903 tram depot still working and a collection of electric trams from around the world. There must be something about the State of Victoria that loves trams as Melbourne never got rid of it’s trams either. It definitely adds character to a place.
Anyway it’s goodbye Melbourne tomorrow and off to Sydney for the last leg of our trip. The NYE boat cruise round the harbour will be one highlight, and I hope an improved England performance will be the other. Last time they managed to avoid the dreaded 5-0 scoreline with a face saving win, in fact possibly the last time Australia lost at home. Lets hope they can repeat it this time as well.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The wheels finally totally fell off the England bandwagon today. It was only day 3 but the game was completed about 10 minutes before the scheduled close of play at 6pm. Earlier in the morning England shot out the last 3 wickets in about an hour with Warne playing a bright and breezy innings of 40 not out. Mahmood ended up with 4 wickets for the rather expensive cost of 100 runs off about 23 overs. I do rate him though . He bowls with a very smooth easy action at the not inconsiderable speed of 90mph. His problem is maintaining a good line and the fact that his action is rather low causing him to not get a great deal of steep bounce. He also tends to try too many different variations. When you can bowl that quick all you need to do is maintain a good line and length and the rest will follow. I think he is worth persevering with. Obviously if Simon Jones is fit he wouldn’t make the 11 but until that happens someone has to take his place. I don’t rate Anderson or Plunkett very much.
The batting was no better than the first innings. In fact worse as the conditions were considerable better for batting. There was no great amount of bounce, a little seam movement and only slow spin. Despite all this England only improved by a run or two on their first innings effort. No-one really did much. Strauss stayed in for a fair while, Pietersen moved up the order to number 4 but only lasted 8 balls. Just to rub it in Australia got 3 lbw decisions (all out admittedly) compared to zero when England bowled. Both Hayden and Symonds were given not out by Rudi Koetzen when neither had scored many, from deliveries Hawkeye showed were plumb out. As both scored 150 this kind of influenced the match outcome a bit. Even the Aussie press has noticed the poor decisions that had favoured them both here and in Perth.
So that gives us a couple of free days in or around Melbourne. Plus our ticket money back for the tickets we already bought for day 4. Moz has already booked up for a wine tour and a steam train trip. My thoughts haven’t really got beyond a good lie-in tomorrow morning……………..

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

England followed my script for the morning session. Early wickets fell as Flintoff got Ponting, skying a hook, Hoggard bowled Hussey through the gate for his first failure of the series, and Harmison produced a snorter to dismiss Clarke with his second ball of the match. At that point Australia were 88-5, admittedly one of those wickets being Lee the night watchman. At lunch they had progressed to about 120-5. First ball after lunch Hayden hit the ball straight to Mahmood at mid off and set off for a suicidal run. Mahmood wasn’t really watching and fumbled the ball. Despite that he still had time to hit the stumps (and he had 3 to aim at) and Hayden would have been out by yards. Predictably his throw was wild and missed by a mile. This set the tone for the session. Symonds and Hayden batted very sensibly and slowly accelerated. Hayden got his ton first, then Symonds who got there with a straight six. Aggers on the radio commentary revealed that Boycott on the TV commentary had said he would eat his hat if Symonds got a fifty. What he will do now he is 150 not out I’m not sure. England looked all at sea for the entire afternoon session, totally devoid of invention and new ideas. Flintoff seemed too defensive, allowing the batsmen easy singles almost from the word go. Eventually as the scheduled close of play passed and with about half an hour of extra time remaining to be bowled my watching companions cracked and both Moz and Tutes decided to commit the cardinal sin of sports watching and left early. No sooner had they left their seats than Mahmood produced a pearler to remove Hayden. Moz then shamefacedly returned to see Gilchrist fail again (if he follows the pattern he should hit a ton in the second innings). Tutes did not return thereby proving that he is England’s bogey man - he did not show up until after lunch today after a late night last night, missing the early fight back. If he can be persuaded to stay away tomorrow perhaps England have a chance. Who knows - knock over the tail quickly tomorrow, bat for 2 days and get a 200 run lead and put the pressure on on a wearing last day pitch. Well a man can dream. The pitch is pretty docile still - not surprising really as it’s only the end of day 2. If we had bowled first we would be batting now in the best conditions. But let’s not go over all that again.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

I give up. I’m just not going to support England any more. Today at the MCG was wet, dark, overcast, windy and cold. The forecast was for no real improvement all day. Freddie Flintoff won the toss. So what did he decide to do? Bat. I couldn’t believe it. It was madness. The wicket was damp anyway from the rain we’ve had over the last few days anyway, and despite the steady drizzle as we arrived at the ground it was not covered either. They don’t have proper covers here just tarpaulins. They were eventually put on and play started 30 minutes late. McGrath somehow didn’t get a wicket in his first spell, one that spanned several breaks for drizzle and the early lunch break. How so I don’t know. His first delivery seamed about a foot away from Alistair Cook’s bat and the smile on McGrath’s face was as large as his tally of Test wickets. Lee made the early breakthrough dismissing Cook, and then Bell with a snorting lifter. Strauss managed to lift the score to 100-2 with Collingwood until both were dismissed with an over of each other. Strauss made himself immortal by becoming Shane Warne’s 700th test victim, having just reached his first 50 of the series. After that is was a procession of wickets, Pietersen getting himself out caught on the long on boundary in a forlorn hope of increasing the score when 8 wickets were down. England were 159 all out. Warne ended up with 5-39. The only glimmer of hope was Flintoff getting 2 wickets in two balls near the close, getting Langer (who word has it will announce his retirement soon as well) and Brett Lee (sent in as night watchman) both caught behind. Australia closed on 44-2.
I can put up with the problems on the pitch. It’s the poor decisions off of it that make me so mad. The initial decision to make Flintoff captain for one, the lack of preparation before the Brisbane test, the refusal to pick Panesar, if not at Brisbane, certainly at Adelaide, the playing of 5 bowlers at Perth and then only bowling one (Mahmood) for 17 overs in the match. Then to bat in such bowler friendly conditions, when the opposition have McGrath, Clark, Lee and the little matter of Shane Warne and his 699 wickets, well that takes the biscuit. I can only assume the stories that are circulating aboutt there being a split in the England camp being true. It would account for some of the eccentric decision making.
The MCG is looking very good. The entire northern half of the ground has been redeveloped since I was here last and the capacity is now 100,000. Despite day 1 being sell out the crowd was only 89,000, thereby not quite beating the record of about 91,000 set back in 1961. With sunnier weather forecast for tomorrow it could fall then though. The weather was more suited to Manchester then Melbourne. Fortunately I remembered the chill from last time & came suitably prepared, but even so it was a chilly day throughout and the sun never really shone. The sales of hot chips and pies will have out ranked those of cold drinks and icecreams by a long chalk.
With a bit of luck perhaps England can take 2-3 early wickets tomorrow, especially Ponting and Hussey, and put some pressure on the rest of the batting lineup. Flintoff’s brace has given them a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully it won’t turn out to be an express train thundering towards them at top speed……………………

Monday, December 25, 2006

A very merry Christmas to all my readers back in the UK! We had an excellent Christmas buffet lunch at an hotel down near the river Yarra. We were on the 10th floor looking out towards the south bank - a magnificent view. The MCG was visible from there also. The deal included free alcohol (as a non-drinker Moz and Tutes kindly paid my share for me but I think they still got their money’s worth!) and the food was good too. I’m glad we decided not to try for a beach BBQ or picnic as the weather is positively Arctic! Very similar weather to April in the UK - hailing it down one minute and sunny the next. Rather windy too and generally not what we expected. If you had just flown out for the last few tests you would not be impressed. At least we have had some good weather already in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.
The test match starts tomorrow, and given the forecast the clever money could be on a draw. Rain and cloud are forecast for most of the 5 days. With a bit of luck the seamers will get all the wickets and Warney would fail to get his 700th in front of his own crowd. I did wonder back in Perth what the odds would be of that and I expect they must have shortened due to the weather.
I’ve done some shopping at the Queen Victoria Market, lost all my winnings at the Casino (proving the old adage that the only winners there are the casino owners) and managed to see a few of the sights of Melbourne. It’s also rather odd to see loads of very white Englishmen arriving here over the last few days. The Barmy Army alone have 2000-3000 fans here for the last 2 tests. I can only guess at the total but it could be up to 20,000. Hopefully the extra support will give England a boost. Pride is at stake now if not the Ashes. Just to end McGrath’s career on a low note would be great.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

I’m not sure what it is about Melbourne that makes one feel so at home. Perhaps it’s the 1230 restaurants (2004 survey) serving all types of food at all times of day and night, maybe it’s the Queen Victoria Market where all types of fresh fruit, veg, meat, cheese and fish are available most days of the week, plus loads of clothes, hardware etc, maybe it’s the numerous small bars that seem to lurk down every side alley, maybe it the sports facilities - MCG, Telstra dome, Rod Laver arena for tennis, Melbourne Grand Prix, Melbourne Gold Cup etc etc, maybe it’s the wonderful trams, maybe it’s the great countryside not far out of town. In fact apart from all that it’s hard to see what Melbourne has to offer at all…………
Of course it wouldn’t be anything to do with the fact that I’m in profit at the Casino to the tune of A$350 so far. Not at all. Not one jot.
I saw the Ashes urn today. It’s small. Very small. It also looks suspiciously new, but that maybe due to it’s renovation before starting this tour of Australia. I also discovered an uncomfortable fact. The Ashes urn is entirely Australian. The urn itself is Australian as were the contents. It was presented to Ivo Bligh, the captain of the English team sent out to avenge the first ever English test defeat at the Oval in 1882, by the ladies of the country house he was staying at in Australia. Indeed one of said ladies was to be his future wife. When he died in the 1920’s she presented the urn to the MCC. Hence the reason it belongs to us not them. Possession is nine tenth s of the law and all that. We just better make sure it does make it back to Lords and not get held up by some modern day Ned Kelly.
I think we are on the present buying trail tomorrow at the QVM as although we have one more internal flight to complete, and we are both up against out luggage allowances on internal flights, Tutes has kindly volunteered to act as luggage carrier in his hire car down to Sydney. From there home is fine as we have loads of luggage allowance spare in Business class.
Glen McGrath has also officially retired as well as Shane Warne. I shall be more glad to see the back of him than Warney. Warney is a character, bowling leg spin, which was just about dead and buried as an art when he came on the scene. Whether or not he is playing for you or against you, you can’t help but enjoy his talent. McGrath by contrast is a real grumpy old git, never giving praise freely to his opponents. There’s always some sort of dig at how wonderful he is and how crap they are. He also managed to get the best of England at the most inopportune times. Time and time again just when England would think they were doing well, he would dash those hopes on the rocks of his line and length bowling. Roll on 2009 summer!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Finally today the guy from the Great Southern Railroad got in touch. I had emailed him while back in Perth and had been waiting for a reply ever since. The good news is that they will refund us the cost of the Alice Springs to Darwin leg of our trip (approximately £450 each). The bad news is he was less than helpful over the costs we incurred during our enforced stay in Darwin. He suggested we send him the receipts for our flights and hotel costs and he would see what he could do. He had better come up with something as there are plenty of no-win no-fee solicitors in the UK that would be happy to try and get their pound of flesh out of them. It will be a lot cheaper to just pay us our expenses than employ lawyers to argue it out from 12,000 miles away. The ball’s in their court anyway so we will wait and see what transpires.
On a lighter note I visited the old Melbourne Gaol today. It was a hanging prison, and the last sentence was carried out in 1967. The Gallows are still in situ but are not the original ones - they were made for the Mick Jagger Ned Kelly film and fitted back in place for filming. Ned Kelly was hung there back in Victorian days as were approx. 160 others over the years. At least one of them was innocent - a man was hung in the 1920’s for the rape and murder of a child here in Melbourne. The main evidence was hair from the victim supposedly found in his bed. A journalist researching the case recently found the original samples of hair in papers relating to the case and modern DNA analysis proved the hair was not that of the victim. It wasn’t a very cheery place but it was good to get inside as yes, you will be pleased to hear it is raining! The forecast for Christmas day is not good so we have managed to get booked in for a Christmas luncheon buffet at one of the hotels on the Southbank, overlooking the Yarra river. So no barbie on the beach for us.
Moz and Tutes have been out for the day down the Great Ocean Highway and are due back soon. I plan to see the Ashes urn tomorrow - It’s definitely here now as I saw it on the TV being put in it’s showcase in the Melbourne Museum. We may go to the Crown Casino tonight - hopefully I recoup some of my losses from Darwin!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Hip-hip-hooray! It's a holi-holiday! Warney is retiring and McGrath's on the way out too. For only 2 tests more will we have to put up with the main 2 reasons that it took 17 years to regain the ashes, and only 13 months to lose them again. Whoever replaces them couldn't be half as good. So far the name mentioned most as Warney's replacement is Dan Cullen who was one of Somerset's overseas players last year and was rubbish. Nothing to fear there. Ditto Cameron White, Nathan Hauritz, Stuart McGill etc etc.
At last something to look forward too. 2009 Ashes series in England - they're coming home, coming home, Ashes coming home.
It's good to be back in Melbourne again - it's just as I remembered it. Laid back, cool, friendly. Chock full of bars, restaurants etc. Always something going on. Great to ride the trams again too. I've just been out to Geelong to collect our tickets for the test match - a 50 minute train ride into the countryside. Everything looks very brown. The drought is pretty hard here and the bush fires are making the air hazy. If you could send some of the UK's rain out here I know it would be really appreciated.
We're staying right in the centre of Melbourne so really handy for the MCG and going out in the evening. Not sure yet whether there are any plans for Christmas day - somehow it doesnt feel very Christmassy when the temperature is in the 30s. Maybe a picnic on the beach perhaps. Depends on the weather as it can change fast here. Last time we were here it was overcast & dull so we'll play it by ear.
We've met up with Mark Tuton, who's staying with us here in Melbourne. He picked us up at the airport in his hire car, where I also ran into one of my Shrivenham CC colleagues, James Crowder, who is out here for the Ashes too. So we were able to give him a lift into the city centre.
Not got much planned before Boxing day but hope to see the Ashes urn as missed it in Perth. Moz & Tutes are going to the Neighbours set for a tour. The depths some will stoop to.................

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

For a brief hour or so the Barmy Army dared to dream. Freddie Flintoff came out of the blocks like a sprinter. After playing and missing several times in the first over he faced, the shackles fell off when facing Brett Lee, hitting him for 2 fours in an over, then repeating that off the next over from Stuart Clark. Lee was then picked up (just) over the midwicket boundary for six. Pietersen just sat back and watched as Flintoff caught him up. But all good things must end, and as usual it was Warne who crashed this party. His introduction slowed the scoring rate and eventuallythe inevitable occurred. Freddie missed a tossed up legbreak and was bowled. Jones managed to repeat his first innings duck by being run out while waiting for an lbw decision. That was probably his last test innings for a while, maybe ever. The tail lasted no longer. Somehow Panesar managed to face out a few balls before lunch to make the Aussies wait for their moment, but it wasn't long coming afterwards. Pietersen swept a single first ball, and Panesar was bowled by Warne to start mass jubilation among the Aussies. Somehow I managed to photo the exact moment he was bowled thereby catching the precise moment the Ashes left our grasp.
I have managed to put up loads of photos also online and emailled the link to loads of you but if you want the link just leave a comment on here with your email address and I'll send it to you.
The game finished about 2:30pm so we spent the rest of the day having a bit of a wander around Perth. Neither of us are that impressed with Perth to be honest. It's a bit too new and modern, with no real heart. Adelaide was better I think, and I'm looking forward to seeing Melbourne again. Today I'm going to see the Ashes urn at the western Australia museum. I assume that we do get to keep it at Lords still even though we don't hold it anymore, but it'll be good to see it for the first time. If I have time I also plan to visit the Perth mint which deals with all the gold bullion from the mines around here. With a bit of luck the odd gold bar might be lying around..................
Moz has gone off on the ferry down the river to Fremantle, and I'll meet him later for dinner.
Tomorrow we fly to Melbourne

Sunday, December 17, 2006

England fought hard today. Bell and Cook batted well, with a bit of luck, throughout the morning session. Warne was turning the ball considerably, but Bell used his feet well and hit him for 2 straight sixes. They scored consistently, and never got bogged down. I was just thinking they might make it to tea when the Australian unlucky number 87 struck again and Bell was caught at short cover by Langer. Collingwood saw us through to tea but was caught behind soon after. Enter KP. Apart from one trademark pull to the midwicket boundary, he was resolute in defence. Boycott should have been proud. I had purchased a small FM radio in the morning and was able to listen to the ABC radio commentary all day. It was great to listen to Aggers again and get a slightly less biased view of play for once. Though I must say if you ever get the chance to go to a sporting dinner where Kerry O'Keefe is the speaker you will be in for a good time. He's pretty good value.
It was looking rather good for England and I was just beginning to believe that we could bat until close with only 3 down, when that man McGrath struck again. Time and time again he has done for us and the only way that we can get the better of him is to wait for him to retire. That or hope he carries on too long and old age really catches up with him. If he has any sense he will retire after the world cup in the caribbean. As Graham Gooch found out, it can only be one test series too many that ends your career on a rather sour note. Better to go out at the top than hanging on to former glories.
Cook batted very well. He never looked absolutely in but grafted away for his ton. The Aussies never give you anything so he can be proud of his efforts today. He's still only 21 and has 4 test 100's already. No other England batsman has achieved this ever. Aggers was really positive about him on the radio, describing him as the sort of chap every mother would like her daughter to bring home. I know Aggers has kids, so if he has a daughter maybe he's angling for a son-in-law.....................
We've got our tickets for tomorrow so hope we get a reasonable amount of play. At least we've made all 3 tests go to 5 days so far, which is better than 4 years ago. England have underperformed but have not been totally outclassed. Basically Flintoff, Harmison and Jones have not turned up really so far, Panesar wasn't picked early on, and neither Anderson or Mahmood can replace Simon Jones. We have a young side that should (injuries allowing) get better over the next few years. Australia could have 5 retirees after the world cup - Langer, Hayden, McGrath, Gilchrist and Warne. Martyn has gone already. I really don't think Warney will still be around come 2009 when they are back in the UK so who knows? There are no spinners to replace Warne here, and the seam bowling seems just as threadbare without McGrath. Without those 2 the pressure on the batsmen (without Gilchrist to rescue them a number 7) will be much greater than now. I've watched a bit of State cricket on the TV while I'm here, and it's surprising how many old players are still playing - Lehmann, Gillespie, Elliot, Mcgill, etc plus loads of players who have played in County cricket, not all with great success. Maybe the conveyor line of players has come to an end for a while for Australia. The next few years will really be interesting.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

I'm not sure which is more traumatic, being in a train wreck, or having to watch a days cricket like todays. Pretty much from the word go it didn't look like being England's day, despite the early wicket of Ponting by Harmison. Lbws not given, catches not quite going to hand, one or two drops, several chinese cuts, etc etc. England got 1 wicket before lunch - with a bit of luck it could have been 3 or 4. The rest of the afternoon proceded in similar fashion - Panesar got 3 wickets, but Hussey went on to another ton, being dropped twice, once by Jones off a skier that he should really have left for the fielder running in, and once by Strauss at wide first slip diving away to his right. Clarke eased to another ton as well, and although Symonds failed, that only brought in Gilchrist. On a pair in the match, his first scoring shot was a catch about a foot out of point's reach. After that he reached a quick 50 and then proceded to assault the bowling violently, hitting Panesar for over 20 in one over, and only failing to beat Viv Richards record for the fastest test hundred by a ball or two. At one stage Flintoff had 7 fielders on the boundary and still Gilchrist hit fours and sixes. Great if you are a neutral. I'm not.
Australia promptly declared leaving England about 30 minutes to bat. Lee's first 3 balls were wide of off stump, which Strauss calmly left. His 4th ball was straight and swung in to Strauss who padded up. Cue huge appeal, and a slow raised finger by Rudi Koetzen. To me it looked far too high, as it hit him above the knee roll, and this was confirmed by both people listening to the radio commentary, and surprisingly by the big screen which showed the replay. Strauss has now had 3 dodgy decisions in 3 knocks - a catch behind in the first innings here and a bat pad in the second innings at Adelaide.
All this was meat and drink to the crowd - you don't exactly get much sympathy from the home supporters here.
Anyway it probably won't go past 4 days. If we bat into day 5 I'll be very surprised.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Not much to report at the moment really. Last few days have been taken very slowly, allowing one's thoughts to clam down a bit. We watched the first days play in Perth from our hotel - we found the non-smoking bar in the casino, which was of course pretty empty so had great seats right in front of the big screen, next to the bar which served food as well. Probably the most comfortable days cricket I've seen so far!
England bowled brilliantly, especially Monty-Monty-Monty-Monty Panesar (expect every headline to include "Panesar panacea for England"), but more importantly Harmison finally turned up to the party. His speed was regularly up over 90mph at last and the radar was back on track. He was a bit lucky to get Ponting LBW, as hawkeye (and my naked eye) thought is was a bit high. It might have clipped the top of the bails. But the Aussies are never down for long and 2 wickets before the close puts the game right on a knife edge. Unfortunately we will miss almost all the 2nd days play as we will be on a plane to Perth so it could be a nail biter when we get off the plane to find out the score. Of the wickets to fall Cook was the most culpable in that he has been out to the same ball 3 times in a row now - a ball angled across him fairly well wide of off stump. He is stepping too far to the off side with his initial movement and is playing at deliveries that he could easily leave well alone. Hopefully he will realise this & cut it out!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The good news is that our luggage has almost entirely arrived at our hotel in Darwin. All that we are missing is one or two items of clothing that were in a cupboard in our cabin. More importantly our passports etc have arrived safely.
We were supposed to fly to Perth today, but were unable to do so due to the lack of documentation. We have provisionally booked flights out on Friday as tomorrow was completely booked out. So we will miss days 1 & 2 of the Perth test, but at least we will get there eventually. So we have a day to spare in Darwin. Which seems like a nice place but it's VERY muggy. Just walking out of the hotel makes my glasses steam up and walking around for a bit covers you in sweat. So we have spent the day just chilling out in the hotel, playing a bit of roulette in the casino ( I was up but now am about $30 down) and watching Australian one day cricket on the big screen in the casino. Life is good, in fact just having one seems pretty OK at the moment.
Small update on the crash - the lady who was taken ill was airlifted to hospital, and it seems she actually hit her head worse than was thought. She is described in the paper (we made pages 1-5 of the Darwin daily) as having a serious head injury but in a stable condition. We have also heard the driver of the truck has been arrested.
On a lighter note I would like to point out that the lady in the picture with Moz holding "The Ashes" on the Ghan was in fact the Gold Kangaroo Cabin manager who was the one who organised our game of lounge car cricket, and provided said cricketing momento, not some passing Australian Mata Hari type bent on seducing passing English cricket fans. Sorry to all involved for any confusion caused.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Although these pictures were only taken a few days ago - the one of Ayers Rock on Sunday and the one of Moz with "The Ashes" on the Ghan on Saturday, they feel like a world away now.

I'm not sure if anyone reading this will have heard but the Ghan train suffered a derailment between Alice Springs and Darwin yesterday. Unfortunately Moz and I were on it. We are unhurt, as was all of the passengers and crew of the train, although one woman was airlifted to hospital having collapsed after the event, due to an existing medical complaint brought on by the stress of the accident.

The accident occurred at just before 2pm local time. We were fortunately all seated in the dining car and had just finished lunch, when we experienced 3 sharp jolts one after the other in quick succession. This sent most of the crockery into my lap, as I was seated with my back to the engines. We then continued forward, but it was very quickly obvious that we were no longer on the tracks, and had started to veer off to the side. Even now I can't work out how long we were actually moving off the rails for before coming to a halt. Everything seemed to happen in sort of dream state. It could have been a very short time that felt longer or the opposite. As Winnie the Pooh once sagely observed, funny thing accidents - you're never having them until you're having them. I was having this one but it felt like it was happening completely outside of myself. By the grace of God the carriage stayed upright and came to a halt. Everyone looked at each other, not quite able to believe what had just happened.

What had actually happened was that we had hit a road train lorry on a level crossing. A lorry towing 3 separate articulated ore waggons had driven straight in front of our train. The train driver had just enough time to apply the emergency brakes before hitting the truck. The truck driver was also very lucky, as we hit the line of trucks just behind the tractor unit, sending it, with the driver inside, spinning away to the right, and mangling the trucks to the left. The engines stayed mainly on the track, but the following carriages pulled up the track and veered off to the side. Fortunately they stayed mostly in line, with just one ending up almost a right angles to the track. As I said somehow no-one was seriously injured. It could so easily have been much worse. If we had not been all seated at lunch, there would have been more people in their cabins towards the front of the train. People would have been standing, and thrown around more, with broken limbs or worse possible. Also had we been on an embankment or near a rocky cutting, the carriages could have tumbled over or been pushed up in the air. As it was the ground was pretty level either side of the track and not much lower either.

The train crew were superb. They made sure everyone was safely accounted for, and backup from a mine that was close by arrived within 10-15 minutes. We were moved off the train to the mine bar and social club building within an hour an a half. Here drinks were made available, and air conditioned rooms also. We were about 120 miles south of Darwin. Eventually coaches were sent from the town of Katherine (which must have been closer than Darwin) and after much taking of names and checking of paperwork, we were driven to our respective hotels. Unfortunately we were not all able to collect our hand luggage in out cabins so as I write I have no passport, laptop, documents, wash bag etc. My clothes are in the checked in luggage van. The police have declared the crash site a crime scene, so no-one is sure when we will get our hand luggage back, though our clothes should get here tomorrow. We were supposed to fly to Perth tomorrow, but without passport and papers that will be impossible, plus I don't want to leave here until I've got my stuff back. It's hoping a bit much to expect it to follow me round Australia. So we're staying in the Skycity casino hotel in Darwin for at least the next few days until things sort themselves out.

I have taken quite a few photos of the scene after we got off the train but am unable to get the pictures off my camera as my laptop is still on the train. If it doesn't come back someone will have to pay for a new one. It was of course a top of the range one with all bells & whistles.........................

Maybe I should have made that will before I left home. You never know what's around the corner.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Today I have travelled further by car than I have ever done before in one day. We picked up our hire car yesterday & set out today at about 7am for Ayer's Rock (the Aborigines call it Uluru in their culture, but in mine it's Ayer's rock. If they're allowed their culture so am I). It's a good sized trek out to the rock - about 290 miles each way. On the way there we passed various examples of the local wildlife, mostly in a state of advanced decay due to having been flattened by trucks etc on the road. Kangaroos seem especially vulnerable to this fate - we must have seen 50-100 corpses on the way there. One live animal we did see scared the wits out of us - the biggest lizard I have even see, right in the middle of the road. At least 4 feet long, nose to tail. We subsequently found out it's called a perenti. We thought it was another dead kangaroo lying in the road but as we got closer it turned out to be considerably alive. We should have stopped for a photo but neither of us were feeling that brave!
The rock itself is much more impressive up close than it seems in photos, which are generally taken from far enough away to get it all in. You don't realise how massive it actually is. You can drive round the entire rock, and get up close in places. You are allowed to climb it, but only during the day if the temperature is below 36 degrees C, which it wasn't today. The climb itself looks pretty dangerous - there are no steps, just steel posts with a chain attached to haul yourself up along. It's pretty steep too in places. Coming down is probably harder than going up. If you fall, or have some sort of seizure you are a long way from medical help. Quite a few have died while climbing to the top.
Anyway we're back on the train tomorrow afternoon, Moz is riding a camel in the morning, and I plan to visit a museum or two. Next stop Darwin.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

It's Saturday so it must be Alice Springs. After 19 hours on the Ghan and 1000 miles from Adelaide we have arrived in a town called Alice. (I've been waiting to be able to type that for ages). The Ghan train ride is great fun - well it is if you travel first class anyway! We had our own twin berth cabin with ensuite shower & toilet, a dining car and a lounge car just for the first class passengers, with all meals included. All very old fashioned and rather romantic (with a small r). We even played cricket down the centre of the lounge car with a bat and ball fashioned by the Aileen, the stewardess - and were presented with "The Ashes" - a shot glass filled with authentic outback red soil! Pictures of which will follow when I get somewhere with faster internet than here. So at least some Englishmen will take the Ashes home with them anyway............
There were lots of interesting people on the train - lots of English, including a John Oliver lookalike. He even played as well & only gave up a few years ago. Now he's an umpire in Scotland & does the Scottish national team games.
We've picked up our hire car and plan to go out to the rock tomorrow, starting first thing. Its a fair way but we should be able to do it all in one day. Moz wants to ride a camel while we're here, but I'll leave him to do that alone.
We pick the train up again on Monday at about 4pm and travel on to Darwin where there are tropical storms at the moment. Should make taking off a bit interesting!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Goodbye Adelaide! Not too many fond memories I'm afraid, nothing to do with the place of course, which is beautiful, but more to do with what happened at the Oval on Tuesday (of which we shall not speak).
I spent yesterday down at Glenelg beach, just reading and chilling out. Moz has been on various tours, yesterday and today - drinking I think (no, sorry, make that fact finding wine tours!)
For our last evening in Adelaide we went out for a meal in North Adelaide where there are loads of restaurants. I thought "When in Rome" so had a kangaroo steak (and chips or course) which was excellent. A sort of mixture between pork and beef.
We check out today, and have some free time to spend around town - I think we are going to see the Bradman collection which is not far from the hotel. Then we catch the Ghan train to Alice Springs - That will be our home from home for the next 24 hours.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

I'm still not sure that I want to talk about Tuesday's desperate result. I've spent all of today just trying to not think about it. I've found a great bookshop not far from the hotel and stocked up on books for the next part of the trip. I've got a history of ancient Greece & Rome, a history of the Russian Front during WWII, Alan Alda's autobiography, ditto Lenny Bruce and a book of John Ronson's collected newspaper columns. So that should keep me going for a week or two. I think one of the things I like most about travelling is that it allows me time to read without any feeling that I should be doing something else. At home reading seems like a waste of my time - on the road it's a way of using spare time in planes, airports and hotel rooms when there's nothing else to do. I finished Atlas Shrugged during the Adelaide Test and perhaps it's better that I remember it for that than what actually happened.
Anyone reading this who has played cricket will have experienced the game that they lost not because the opposition are better (it's never bad to be beaten by a better side, as long as you give of your best) but because you handed it to them on a platter. That type of loss is the hardest to bear as you have in fact beaten yourself. And that is what England did yesterday. Schoolboys would be given a right royal rollocking for the type of headless chicken style batting that happened in the morning session. Club cricketers would hang their heads in shame. It was ludicrous. The worst culprits in my mind were Pietersen for trying to sweep Warne out of the rough, Flintoff & Jones for flashing a wide deliveries from Lee (so wide in Jones's case he could hardly reach it). Bell's run out was substantially his own fault - instead of watching the ball he should have been watching his partner Collingwood. It was a tight run but they would have got in safely had they both gone at the same time. After losing 4 wickets in the morning session England were always going to be up against it. Collingwood batted well and got good support from the tail. Had Anderson not got out to the last ball before tea, another 2-3 overs at least would have been lost for the changeover between innings plus probably a few more as well. That could have made all the difference in the end.
So that's it. The Ashes aren't coming home. In fact I predict a 5-0 result to Australia. At least it's sunny and hot.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

No more words are required.

Monday, December 04, 2006

There's only one thing that's winning this test match and that's the wicket. So far there's been over 1100 runs for 17 wickets and with England about 100 ahead going into the last day the draw looks favourite. Any track that allows McGrath to concede his worse ever test bowling figures (0-130) and Warne concede the most runs he has ever done so in an innings (1-169) must be pretty flat. All credit to Hoggard today for plugging away and ending up with a 7-for.
It was hotter today, but still cooler than in Brisbane and manageable to stay out in the sun all day. I'm beginning to get a reasonable tan now - but it is a T-shirt tan - golden brown to the bicep and white as a sheet above that! I'm also getting sandal wearers foot - a tanned square on the top of the foot where the sandal doesn't cover. Looks rather odd.
I do have loads of photos, especially of the cricket. My new camera can zoom in up to 16 times and gives some really good action shots. Unfortunately internet speeds here are crap, even broadband ones,so it's virtually impossible to upload them to the web. I'll try again when I get to Perth.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

It was a rather sonambulent Sunday's days play today. The close of play score of 312-5 contained approximately 280 runs and 4 wickets in the day. For long periods in the afternoon the most exitement in the ground was whether a mexican wave could be started in the ground and if so would the perpetrators be ejected for starting it? For the record a few circuits of the ground were managed which then provoked a rather schoolmasterish response from the stadium announcer that this was not permitted and if it was repeated whoever started it would be thrown out. Whatever happened to the Outback spirit?
One small flashpoint in the morning occurred when Harmison attempted a yorker at Ponting. It came out as a knee high full toss which Ponting lost sight of and attempted to duck and got nearly beaned on the helmet. There was a bit of staring and hard looks but as confrontations go it was about on a par with an argument between 2 suburban dads over who's got the biggest garden. It was that sort of day. No-one could really manage too much emotion or effort either way.
Anyway I would say the game is still in the balance. A couple of early wickets tomorrow would give England a definite advantage, whereas a good session for Australia would tilt things their way. It seems to be a wicket that once you get in on you make the most of it.
I have also discovered that Moz has an alter ego - Shoelace Man. Where ever there are people with untied shoelaces Shoelace Man is duty bound to inform them of that fact, thereby relieving himself of the responsibility if they later trip and fall over on their faces. No less than 3 times on our way to and from the ground has Shoelace Man made himself known to the world, only to disappear in an instant after doing good and fighting evil in the form of untied laces. What would we do without him?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Today was the sort of day that you travel to the other side of the globe for. From the first ball to the last England were on top. Collingwood not only made his ton but powered on to his double. Pietersen was relatively subdued and somehow managed to end up on 158 for the third time in his career. A few lusty blows from Freddie and Gilo set up a 10 over spell at Langer and Hayden. Freddie produced an absolute snorter of a delivery to dismiss Langer who proceded to have heated words with some of the members on the way back to the dressing room. The only shame is we don't have Monty on board to put the pressure on over the next few days. The fact that England did well yesterday and today does not come as a surprise to Moz and me as we have realised that their improved form stems from the change in our own routine. For days 1-3 in Brisbane I was up before Moz & made my sandwiches first, thereafter Moz has made his first. I rest my case. We shall of course continue with the lucky sandwich making routine until the Ashes are safe.
The weather was cooler today - sunny but not too sweaty. If fact perfect for cricket watching. In fact the only fly in the ointment was the self declared armchair god of cricket who was sitting next to Moz for most of the day with his girlfriend. Somehow he managed to disparage England throughout their total of 551-6. Takes some doing even for a one eyed Aussie.
Last night we went to a pub (which tend to be called hotels here)not far from our hotel. It was rather similar to the Beehive back home - dark, smoky and rather eclectic. There was a band playing, locals I think. They were a 6 piece on a tiny stage, with 2 saxes, drums, bass guitar, lead guitar/vocalist and keyboard player (who also played accordian). The style was very psychedelic/1970's. Not my cup of tea but good musicianship none the less.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Today was a all round improvement from the First Test in just about every sense. For starters play started at the more sensible hour of 11am allowing a generous lie-in, as we are only 5 minutes from the ground. The weather was much more amenable as well, starting with bright blue skies for the morning and afternoon sessions, without the heat of Brisbane, giving way to overcast conditions later in the day. Our seats were in the front row at the scoreboard end and gave a reasonable view, although we did have to put up with a row of young Aussies behind us who seemed to consider that any over that didn't disappear for at least 10 runs was boring.
England also continued with their improved batting form from Brisbane (2nd innings!) and despite early wicket losses of Strauss and Cook, worked really hard deserved the final score at the close of 266-3. Collingwood batted superbly and I hope he gets his 100 tomorrow. Pietersen was his usual self and got away with a few loose shots, but came in at the exactly right time with the bowlers tired in the last session. The Australian bowlers are looking a bit ragged for once, especially McGrath who didn't take the new ball towards the close and made some very old man-ish errors in the field - even to the extent of doing a "mummy" impression while trying to catch a Pietersen miscued skier. With Ponting taking some time off (hopefully with his bad back) and McGrath's heel giving him gyp the Old Man tag might be catching up with Australia. If only England had picked Monty as well as Giles they would be in a much stronger position. I just hope Giles will be able to exploit the spin later in the match as it's turning for Warne considerably already.
I have been taking my various books with me to the ground both today and at Brisbane, and have got through 3 already, and have today started Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. It was a bit heavy going to start with but now I'm well into it and it's proving to be a good read. Ayn Rand has been a darling of the right for a long time & I have never got round to reading anything by her before so having so much time to spare to read is great. I hope to go to a bookshop nearby before leaving Adelaide to stock up.